My father grew up on a farm and although he never really wanted to be a farmer (if he had he would have stayed there) he retained an interest in “things agricultural” for the rest of his life. One manifestation of this was his inability to ignore any traction engine rally taking place in the vicinity. What’s a traction engine you may ask? You can find some pictures of these magnificent beasts in this Wikipedia article, which describes them as follows (note the sentence in bold below. This type of fair is what I mean by a “traction engine rally”):

A traction engine is a self-propelled steam engine used to move heavy loads on roads, plough ground or to provide power at a chosen location. The name derives from the Latin tractus, meaning ‘drawn’, since the prime function of any traction engine is to draw a load behind it. They are sometimes called road locomotives to distinguish them from railway locomotives – that is, steam engines that run on rails.

Traction engines tend to be large, robust and powerful, but heavy, slow, and difficult to manoeuvre. Nevertheless, they revolutionized agriculture and road haulage at a time when the only alternative prime mover was the draught horse.

They became popular in industrialised countries from around 1850, when the first self-propelled portable steam engines for agricultural use were developed. Production continued well into the early part of the 20th century, when competition from internal combustion engine–powered tractors saw them fall out of favour, although some continued in commercial use in the United Kingdom well into the 1950s and later. All types of traction engines have now been superseded, in commercial use. However, several thousand examples have been preserved worldwide, many in working order. Steam fairs are held throughout the year in the United Kingdom, and in other countries, where visitors can experience working traction engines at close hand.

In many ways the traction engine was the precursor to these old (but not as old as the traction engines) tractors. So when, in September 2013, I read an announcement of this old tractor show at Tilly Foster Farm I felt a sense of excitement. The sense of excitement continued tinged with a certain awe that I always feel when encountering old technology. However, it was also tempered with a little sadness. I had always accompanied my father on his traction engine excursions and would never be able to do so again.

Did I try to convey this excitement, awe and sadness in the photographs? I don’t recall that I did. Should I have tried to do so? Maybe, although as I write this I’m unsure how I would have made the photographs different in order to do so. I guess I still have difficulty getting a photograph to convey emotions.

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